Responsible water usage is multifaceted: we’ve broken it down into three steps to make it easy.
You might assume that the beautiful open gardens on the pages of this magazine all require a river of water to keep them at their peak. Actually, many of them have been planted and are managed with responsible water use at heart. These tips will help you to plan your own show garden without emptying lakes to keep them alive.
1. Reuse Water
Water is a finite resource, so use it more than once.
- Grey water – don’t pour water down the drain. Water from baths, showers and the laundry can be used in the garden.
- Cooking water – when you’ve boiled veg in the kitchen, strain the veg and use the cooled water in your garden – it’s full of nutrients.
- Harvest rainwater – all that water falling on your roof should be harvested, saved and used during dry spells.
2. Plant With Water In Mind
Choose the right plants and you won’t have to worry as much about water
- Hydrozone – grouping plants according to their water use, known as hydrozoning, is a smart and efficient approach in gardening that can help conserve water.
- Choose succulents – succulents have been designed by nature to survive long dry spells. Embrace this with a succulent garden. There are hundreds of spectacular options including aloes, spekbooms, echeverias, crassulas, sedums, Haworthiopsis, vygies and so many more.
- Keep it hardy – tough, hardy plants give clues with their appearance. Grey or silver foliage helps them to reflect light, keep cool and use less water. Hairs on leaves or a waxy coating also reduce evaporation. Many waterwise plants have square stems that increase the surface area for better water absorption.
3. Save water
There are a number of things that you can do to use water more efficiently.
Let the Water Warriors show you how…
Whenever you use water, try to make sure you don’t just use it once. Here are some ways you can stretch every drop of precious H2O.
There’s a finite amount of water on earth, meaning that every drop we use has been used countless times before and will be used countless times again. That’s why it’s important to keep it unpolluted, and to use it as wisely as possible. Here are our top 3 water recycling tips:
Kitchen water is not recommended for use in gardens – except for the water you use to steam or boil veg with. That is brilliant for the garden, because it will actually contain nutrients that have leached out of the veggies.
So, the next time you treat the kids to boiled broccoli, save the water, let it cool down and then water your plants with it.
‘Grey water’ refers to the relatively clean wastewater that comes from basins, showers and washing machines. It’s not water that comes from toilets and dishwashers, or kitchen water that contains things like oils and fats – that’s called black water.
Grey water is perfect for use in the garden, but the first step is to harvest it. The most basic way to do this is to scoop it out of the bath or catch your shower water in a tub, or you can divert the waste water from baths, basins, washing machines etc into a tank or straight out into the garden via a hosepipe.
Grey water tips
Choose appropriate cleaning products: Use environmentally friendly and biodegradable soaps, shampoos and detergents.
Direct grey water to plant roots: Grey water should be directed to the soil around the root zone of plants rather than the leaves.
Nature has provided plants with a number of adaptations to save water. Spot these traits and you’ve found a water warrior winner.
In plant terms, a succulent is a plant with fleshy leaves or stems that it uses to store water in. Each leaf is a little JoJo tank that adds up to enough water to get the plant through from one rainfall to the next. Since we live in an arid country, there are hundreds of succulent species that spring to mind, but here are three succulents to look out for:
Aloe: From the tiny guineafowl aloe (Aristaloe aristata) to the massive tree aloe (Aloidendron barberae), there is an aloe for just about every role in the garden, although most gardeners would prefer something in between these two. The spectacular hybrids are very popular, like Aloe ‘Porcupine’ and Aloe ‘African Sunset’.
Crassula: There are over 200 Crassula species, but the most popular garden crassulas in South Africa are the jade plant (C. ovata) and the fairy crassula (C. multicava). The former is an attractive shrub while the latter is a beautiful, petite groundcover.
Portulacaria: The spekboom (Portulacaria afra) is a hugely popular shrub to small tree, offering delicate pale green leaves perched on red stems that mature to grey. The leaves are edible too! It comes in a few forms, from upright to sprawling, and some varieties have pale, almost golden leaves.
Grey or silver foliage
Grey or silver foliage is often seen in drought-tolerant plants, as the lighter colour operates as a natural sunblock, helping to reflect sunlight, thereby reducing leaf temperatures and lowering water loss. This is often paired with other water-saving characteristics such as succulent leaves. Here are three grey/silver plants that won’t let you down during a hot summer:
Coleus neochilus: Blue coleus, formerly known as Plectranthus neochilus, has to be one of the toughest plants out there.
Summer is here, and while that usually means rain, it can also mean long periods of sun beating down on your garden. Here are the plants most likely to survive!
Give Them A Good Start
Even plants that are classified as water-wise need a good start in life. Give them that, and when they’re established they will be fully equipped to deal with whatever the sun throws at them.
We recommend a good-sized planting hole improved with a top-quality organic fertiliser, some bonemeal for root development, and some added organic matter in the form of compost.
Once planted, make sure to give the plant a really good watering and then repeat this until the plant is well established. Mulch around the base of the plant will make it even more resilient.
The Herb Garden
Herbs are for more than just windowsill gardens – some of them can be incredibly effective and beautiful in a water-wise garden. Here are some herbs that will shrug off the sun to thrive in dry conditions:
Oregano is a staple in Mediterranean and Italian cuisines, its pungent, earthy flavour used widely in all manner of dishes. It loves well-draining soil and full sun conditions, and needs space to spread – it will form a low, bushy mound that will need to be clipped so as to not become leggy.
Sage gives us a clue as to how it copes with dry conditions – its silvery-green leaves. Plants with silver or grey leaves are often very drought hardy, as the lighter colour reflects sunlight, reducing the temperature of the leaves and therefore the amount of moisture they lose. Sage is very useful in the kitchen, but it deserves its place in the garden for its handsome appearance alone.
Chives are drought tolerant once established, and are a more useful herb in the kitchen than they are credited with.
Water is a scarce commodity and has to be used in the most efficient way to get the most out of every drop. One of the easiest ways to conserve water is to grow plants right next to your braai that you can pick fresh to add flavour to meals and by having them in containers, very little water is used.
There are containers available now that have a very efficient watering system that uses a wick – usually a rope or fabric – to carry water from a reservoir to the roots of the plants where it’s most useful. It works using capillary flow that can move water slowly from the water source upwards. These types of wick watering systems mean that plants are often able to last without watering for weeks at a time.
Containers are a great way to grow herbs, veg and fruit and manipulate the soil medium to use as little water as possible. By using good quality potting soil with added water-absorbing crystals, vermiculite and good compost, you ensure that watering times are reduced, but the plants are still happy. Also grouping plants with similar water needs will go a long way in reducing water consumption.
Handy Herbs Use Less Water
Making the right herb choice is another way to save water. These are just a few tasty herbs that need little water.
Rosemary – needle-like leaves are a sign that a plant is drought-resistant. Rosemary is one of those plants that once established needs very little water. In a container, it needs watering when the soil is just dry on the top.
Thyme – this herb thrives on neglect which includes minimum watering. Also, the more you cut it, the more it grows.
Origanum – another tough herb that grows well with rosemary and thyme for a mixed container.